Best of Audiobooks, Vol. 1

Over the past couple of years I have listened to a lot of audiobooks and have amassed a ton more in my library, to the point where I didn’t know how many I’d owned, which was a problem. It’s fine to let physical books accumulate and pile up all over the floor, but it’s a problem when you let that happen to audiobooks. It’s too easy to forget about virtual books when you’re not constantly tripping over them. The sheer number of unread audios that I own and their combined hours is probably more than my lifespan. Probably.

So organizing my audio shelf has been a long, on-going process that I’ve been meaning to complete for years now, but kept putting off because… virtual shelves, not tripping over them, and all that. Also, I didn’t have the right motivation until recently when a friend on Goodreads asked for some audio recommendations, good audio recommendations, that is. I knew there were plenty I wanted to list for her, but couldn’t recall what they were off the top of my head. So this list, or rather these lists, is a way of keeping track of the best ones, the ones that I know I would gladly recommend to anyone (with some caveats) and I know I would reread (relisten?) to them if I have the chance.

So here they are in alphabetical order by author because… just because that’s how I roll.

Peter Grant books (aka the Rivers of London series)
by Ben Aaronovitch (reviews)
read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

When an audiobook narrator and the main character of the book seem like they’re made for each other, magic happens. Literally. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is Peter Grant (if there’s a TV show, the role’s gotta his, right?). But not only that, he also portrays every character in the story, as well as London itself, so skillfully that I always forget I’m listening to the book rather than reading it myself. It’s a joy to listen to and always makes me feel like I’m right in London.

The Blade Itself (First Law Trilogy #1)
by Joe Abercrombie
read by Steven Pacey

I’m partial to narrators with British accents when it comes to high fantasy, and this book read by this narrator is one of my particular favorites. Steven Pacey not only makes the characters come to life, but he makes you believe that he really is each and every one of them. When the POV jumps from one to another, he moves seamlessly between them without missing a beat. And furthermore, I find that he’s as good with internal monologues as he is with action scenes. I really need to reread this trilogy in audio.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
read by Stephen Fry

So good and a lot of fun. Stephen Fry makes this book very enjoyable. I first read it some years ago on my own and didn’t really like it. I found the plot meandering and the prose too busy with too much going on to make much sense. Ironically, I’m a fan of books inspired by Douglas Adams’ writing style (Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez, Soulless by Gail Carriger, The Gates by John Connolly, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett). But the original itself? Was not a fan… until I listened to Stephen Fry read. This book is meant to be read out loud and you’re meant to enjoy the performance.

Watership Down
by Richard Adams
read by… unknown

I don’t recall who the narrator was, just that he was very good. I borrowed the recording from the library some years ago, but it’s not there any more and none of the other libraries have it. 😦 Anyhow. I just remember the narration was very good and made me love the book all over again. I would only recommend a listen if you read it way back when and had fond memories of the rabbits (and were permanently scarred by their violent deaths). (Watership Down was my Winnie the Pooh.)

The Goblin Emperor
by Katherine Addison (review)
read by Kyle McCarley

Otherwise known as “he who can pronounce basically any made-up fantasy word.” Just a few examples: Alcethmeret, Ulimeire, Istandaartha, Nazhmorhathveras, Verven’theileian, Untheileneise, Edrehasivar. The mind, it boggles. I liked this book on the first read, but it was the reread in audio that made me love it. (McCarley is also the narrator for City of Bones btw, which was okay overall but not as smooth or well-read as Goblin.)

Garden Spells
by Sarah Addison Allen
read by Susan Ericksen

Once again, another book that I liked more on audio because of the narrator. This is sweet with a little bit of magic and lots of food (one of the main characters is a gifted caterer). Like Practical Magic (the movie, not the book), but cozier and softer around the edges.

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
read by Rosamund Pike (aka Jane Bennet herself)

Personally, I think Jane Austen’s writing is better in audiobook than it is when read by yourself (or myself), and that’s especially true for P&P because of all the dialogue and the internal monologues and the endless balls and gowns, not to mention all the explanation of appropriate fashion and mannerisms. Rosamund Pike does an amazing job bringing the characters and their predicaments to life with her narration, and I think she’s the best reader for this book. She’s got a voice that really brings the time period to life. (IMHO she’s even better than Kate Reading, who’s good but not time-period-enhancing good.)

The Reapers Are the Angels
by Alden Bell
read by Tai Sammons

There are so few narrators who can portray a teenager’s point of view in a believable way, while at the same time preventing the tone of the book from veering into whiny YA territory. This book is definitely not YA, but the main character is a teenage girl trying to survive a zombie apocalypse by herself, so there are long passages in which she’s recalling the past. The writing is amazing and I loved this book the first time I read it. Then I listened to audio and enjoyed it all over again.

Kitchen Confidential
by Anthony Bourdain (review)
read by the author

Bourdain writes like the way he talks and vice versa, and he narrates the same way too–cocky but with the skills to back it up, honest, matter-of-fact, heartfelt, endearing (if you like that type of personality). I play this audiobook just to have it in the background when the house is too quiet just like other people play their favorite albums. It keeps me grounded.

A Natural History of Dragons (Lady Trent #1) (series)
by Marie Brennan
read by Kate Reading

Ms. Reading has a natural talent for high fantasies with lots of adventure told from female POVs, and Lady Trent is the perfect character for her voice and style. She and her husband, Michael Kramer, have read a ton of genre books together, but I much prefer her narration to his, so I usually seek out books that she reads by herself (P&P being one of them) and I always pass on books they read together because nothing puts me to sleep faster than Michael Kramer’s voice.

Vlad Taltos (series)
by Steven Brust (reviews)
read by Bernard Setaro Clark

Fun, fast-paced, and very funny. Bernard Setaro Clark is so good that I think I might listen to the rest of this series, even though I already own most of the books in paperback. Clark’s portrayal of Vlad and the stealthy (and often accidentally teleported because he’s so stealthy) Kragar and their friendship is my absolute favorite.

A Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson
read by the author

Very good and very funny. I loved the audio as much as I loved reading the book myself. However, I should mention that text books are hard to listen to for long periods of time. The mind tends to wander after half an hour. No matter how good or interesting or engrossing the text is, you’ll find yourself suddenly fascinated by dust motes and the molding on the ceiling.

Lilith’s Brood or Xenogenesis (trilogy)
by Octavia Butler (review)
read by Aldrich Barrett

A hard series to read, but since this is Octavia Butler, the pages just turn themselves. I read all three books back to back, turning to the audios whenever the reading got difficult, which was often, and I was able to make it through some of the toughest parts because, for some reason, listening to them made them easier to bare. It really helped that Aldrich Barrett has a voice that’s very easy to listen to.

Wild Seed (Patternist #1)
by Octavia Butler
read by Dion Graham

Similar to Lilith’s Brood, but mildly easier to read because the story is set on Earth… during the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and deals with shapeshifters indirectly involved in the slave trade, so not that easy, just easier to digest than aliens from outer space interbreeding with humans as part of a genetic trade agreement to repopulate the Earth… Anyhow. My point is Octavia Butler’s books are hard to read but so good. Thank audiobook for talented narrators like Dion Graham who make hard reads… more pleasant.

The Kushiel trilogy
by Jacqueline Carey
read by Anne Flosnik

Like Kate Reading, Anne Flosnik is another household name in high fantasy. I think her voice is a good fit for fantasies that feature courtly intrigue, a layered plot with many subplots branching off and then converging later on, with lots of moving parts, and royal families and their subjects squabbling, which is why she’s perfect for the Kushiel trilogy. However, I should mention that it took me more than half of the first book, roughly 15 hours, to get used to her narration style, but I’m glad I stuck with it because the scope of the story is huge and the payoff is very satisfying.

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)
by Gail Carriger
read by Emily Gray

Very funny and enjoyable. Emily Gray has great comedic timing and she really embodies Alexia Tarabotti’s style of flouncing tradition in favor of doing and saying whatever she wants, often times in public and at the most inappropriate moment. If I ever get around to picking up the second book, I will definitely go for the audio.

The Wayfarers (series)
by Becky Chambers
read by Rachel Dulude

Both readings of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit are excellent, but ACCO is slightly better IMO because it’s an emotional gut-punch, whereas Small Angry Planet is light and fun.

Alexander Hamilton
by Ron Chernow
read by Scott Brick (the unabridged edition)

This audiobook is 36 hours long and I only listened to parts of it when I couldn’t concentrate and my mind started to wander. So I’m not sure how the whole audiobook is, just the parts that I listened to were expertly read by an expert, Scott Brick. (Mr. Brick is also the narrator for one of my favorite mind bending sci-fis, The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. More on that when we get to R.)

Continues on:
Best of Audiobooks, Vol. 2 (to be posted later)

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The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant, #6) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: November 14 to December 19, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

The tag line on the cover says: Back in London, back in trouble which pretty much sums up this book. We’re back in London, and Peter Grant and friends are back in trouble. And it’s the same kind of trouble that’s been plaguing them since Moon Over Soho.

But finally, we stop chasing after ghosts and faceless mysteries and come face to face with the man behind the mask. And there really is a face behind that mask. This reveal was indeed a surprise, but whether or not it does anything for the series’ continuous arc will depend on how it plays out in later books.

This book picks up a month or two following the events in Foxglove Summer, and the trouble all started when one of the Thames sisters called in a favor from Peter. What started out as a simple, straightforward investigation into whether a teenage girl’s drug overdose was accidental or deliberate turned into a huge Falcon case, uncharacteristically complete with a huge revelation at the end. Not as big, imo, as the ending of Broken Homes, but it’s relatively seismic as far as revelations go in this series.

With that said, I must admit I’m mostly lukewarm toward this book in particular, and I’ve been mulling over it for a few months now, trying to figure out why that is. The writing isn’t that different from previous books.

“So when a bunch of fucking kids waltz into the building, the DPG wants to know how. And I get woken up in the middle of the fucking night,” said Seawoll. “And told to find out on pain of getting a bollocking. Me?” he said in outrage. “Getting a bollocking? And just when I thought things couldn’t descend further into the brown stuff–here you are.”

As a matter of fact, it’s very much in line with previous books in terms of quality, plotting, pacing, humor, adventures and misadventures. Peter and the rest of the gang are developing and progressing at their usual pace–I very much enjoyed every scene with Seawoll and Stephanopoulos.

“So he’s a French fairy tale,” said Seawoll and turned to look, thank god, at Nightingale instead of me. “Is he?”
“That’s a difficult question, Alexander,” said Nightingale.
“I know it’s a difficult question, Thomas,” said Seawoll slowly. “That’s why I’m fucking asking it.”
“Yes, but do you want to know the actual answer?” said Nightingale. “You’ve always proved reluctant in the past. Am I to understand that you’ve changed your attitude?”
“You can fucking understand what you bloody like,” said Seawoll. “But in this case I do bloody want to know because I don’t want to lose any more officers to things I don’t fucking understand.” He glanced at me and frowned. “Two is too many.”

[…]

Generally when you’re interviewing somebody and they seem remarkably calm about one crime, it’s because they’re relieved you haven’t found out about something else.

Plus, there are plenty of humorous moments scattered throughout the book, and Peter is still his usual funny, likable self. So it’s just like previous books.

Bollocks, I thought, or testiculi or possibly testiculos if we were using the accusative.

[…]

“What I’m saying here,” Seawoll had said, “is try to limit the amount of damage you do to none fucking whatsoever.”
I don’t know where I got this reputation for property damage, I really don’t–it’s totally unfair.

[…]

“I’m planning to blow up some phones for science.”

And yet…

Something’s missing. Something’s not quite there anymore. And I don’t know why.

Maybe the timing wasn’t quite right when I read it. Or maybe I’m just tired of chasing after faceless nemeses–both of ’em.

I’m all for more Peter and more (mis)adventures in London. But more faceless mysteries and/or conspiracies? Nah, that’s okay.

I could read back to back stories of Peter running around London solving all sorts of mysterious happenings, and they may even be unrelated to each other and the series’ arc, and that would be fine. Actually, I would love that. But more mysterious faceless happenings? Thanks, but no thanks.

However, I am looking forward to the next installment and being back in London and back in trouble because, honestly despite the gripe, this series is still one of best urban fantasies out there, and every single book is a blast.

Review: Rivers of London (Peter Grant, #1) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: July 27 to August 15, 2013
Read count: 1

If you like your urban fiction to have flavors of modern-day London and you like your London stories to have London-specific historical accounts popping up every so often, then look no further. This book could fill that void in your reading reservoir (river pun intended).

Peter Grant, a young officer in training, is done with his interim year, though his prospects for an exciting career in law enforcement are not bright. Then a chance encounter at the scene of a crime reveals that he has an innate sense of the paranormal. This leads him down a path to the weird(er) side of law enforcement—magic.

Peter becomes an officer and an apprentice to a wizard named Nightingale and moves into Nightingale’s huge Victorian estate—it’s all very English, you see. After settling into the narration, I somehow developed an English-accented reading voice inside my head that lasted for the duration of the book. If I stay very quiet, I can still hear it.

Peter’s journey into magic takes time, effort, and practice. Many exploding apples later he’s able to perform a single levitation spell on command. He’s not an overnight success. As a matter of fact, he can barely manage a spell on his own by the end of the book.

What I like most about this approach is that Aaronovitch ties real-world science and history into otherworldly magic to create a encompassing, believable world full of wonder and mystery and chaos. Since he’s just a regular guy with some magical inclination, Peter is no genius. Both science and magic are hard for him, so his training starts with very basic physics and chemistry to explain the nature of magic and how it works in our world. The reader learns more about the inner-workings of science and magic as Peter learns—and stumbles and flails and destroys cell phones. Aaronovitch doesn’t get into biology or species origins much in this book, but I suspect he’s saving them for later books (because you can’t introduce a host of creatures and not delve further into their origin mythology).

In terms of content, I don’t think Aaronovitch is shaking up the urban fantasy genre much with this book. What he does well, though, is tell a relatively familiar story in his own way. You get a strong sense of London, magic, creatures, and especially Peter Grant. He’s special in the most ordinary, economical, pragmatic, solid kind of way, and he’s special because he’s (street)smart, calculating, and doesn’t take things for granted. A sensible kind of smart that evolves as the character evolves.

Aaronovitch’s writing is so much better than what I’m used to seeing in this genre. He makes subtle, yet poignant commentary about racial identity, racial tensions, race relations, and ties them to Peter’s life. It’s evident when an author understands the depths of the character he’s created and the real-world problems that such a character would face if he were alive today. I think Aaronovitch has done this exceptionally well.

I’ll wrap up this review on a lighthearted note. The narration and dialogue are great. I love how it moves events along at an even pace while throwing in a hilarious quip here and there when you least expect it. Many of my favorite lines caught me off guard during the first read through.

Peter and Nightingale off to interview a possible witness:

“I’m just going to have a chat with this troll,” said Nightingale.
“Sir,” I said, “I think we’re supposed to call them rough sleepers.”
“Not this one we don’t,” said Nightingale. “He’s a troll.”

After Peter and Nightingale blew up a vampire den:

Concerned neighbours rushed out to see what was happening to their property values, but Nightingale showed them his warrant card.

Peter concerned for a possible witness… and himself:

I actually used the word “goovy” and she didn’t even flinch, which was worrying on so many levels.

The moment Peter and I connected on a spiritual~ level:

Not that [Mum] ever beat me, a deficiency that she later blamed for my failure to pass my A levels. Numerous university-bound cousins were held up as shining examples of discipline through physical violence.

I have never liked a first book in a series enough to give it 5-stars, so this is a first because this book really deserves the highest rating. Here’s to hoping that this series gets better with each book.

 

Since Peter Grant is biracial and the main character, there’s some controversy regarding the US Midnight Riot cover art. While I agree that intentionally obscuring the model’s face with a silhouette is suspicious, I still prefer the UK cover art because it fits more with the tone of the book and Peter’s personality.

Aside from hiding his racial identity, the US cover art also markets Peter as a trigger-happy, take-charge ass-kicker, and that’s just false advertisement. He doesn’t care for firearms and doesn’t like to intrude on other people unless he’s making an arrest. Clearly not the qualities of ass-kicker—well, not in this book anyway.

 

Original review can be found here.